SGU Episode 354

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SGU Episode 354
28th April 2012

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SGU 353 SGU 355
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
R: Rebecca Watson
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
JR: James Randi
JIS: Jamy Ian Swiss
Quote of the Week
The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.
George Bernard Shaw
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


Jamy Ian Swiss: And now, we are ready for a live broadcast of the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Now, I'm sure most of you are—OK. Who are listeners to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe?


JIS: Exactly, exactly. It's obvious. They claim now approximately 120,000 listeners per week. It is the number one skeptic podcast on iTunes, among the top five science podcasts. With 24 million downloads in the seven years since 2005 when they began. Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. You know it, you love it. Um, right now I'm going to introduce the host and producer of the SGU, and he has a couple of other credits to his resumé. (laughs) But I'm sure that he'd be happy to retire on that one. He is an academic clinical neurologist at Yale University. He started the Neurologica blog, which covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. He contributes every Monday to Skeptic Blog, every Wednesday to Science-Based Medicine, a blog dedicated to issues of science and medicine and I don't know when the hell he finds the time to sleep. (laughter) Please welcome to the stage, my friend and colleague Dr. Steve Novella.

(applause & cheers)

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. This is your host, Steven Novella and this week I am joined by Bob Novella, Rebecca Watson, Jay Novella, Evan Bernstein. So we are live from NECSS 2012 and for our show this year we have a special guest, The Amazing James Randi.

(cheers, applause)

This Day in Skepticism (2:22)[edit]

April 28, 1953: A U.S. patent was issued for an overcoat for two people (or Siamese Twins) to Howard C. Boss (No. 2,636,176).

S: So Rebecca, April 28th, 1953.

R: It's a very important day in skeptic history, in science history. Of course, for our live audience, this show's going out next week, so that's why we're choosing April 28th. And let me just set the scene for you. The year is 1953. The Korean war is ending, and of course, the most important topic on Americans' minds is what conjoined twins should wear when it gets chilly.


R: Howard C. Boss was just the entrepreneur to come to the rescue. On April 27th, 1953, he received a patent for the double overcoat. Now, at the time, single overcoats did exist; however, at that point, no one had ever taken two single overcoats and sewn them together.


R: And of course, this isn't limited to conjoined twins; it's also perfect for...

S: Because that market's not big enough for him?

R: Well, you know.

S: I mean, did he submit this patent—it's like, "all right, I'm going to sell three, four of these things, easy."


R: Exactly. But there's room for growth. There's conjoined twins; there's very obnoxious couples.


R: There's Zaphod Beeblebrox cos-players. And of course, three-legged race participants. This day in science history.

S: Or Monty Python skits, maybe.

R: It's true; that's another good one.

S: OK. That was the best you could come up with, by the way, for...?


R: It's been a busy weekend, Steve.

News Items[edit]

Pedantic Words (4:01)[edit]

S: All right, guys. What do these words have in common? I'll read them. Hopefully, presently, decimate, anxious, disinterested and nauseous.

R: I know exactly what these words have in common. These are words that I like to call "pedant catchers".

S: Pedant bait.

R: Pedant bait.

B: Ah yes.

R: If you believe that you are speaking with an English-language pedant, you should say something like, "man, my football team really got decimated on the field." And then they will immediately say, "huh excuse me, was one out of the ten of the team murdered?"


S: Right.

J: Rebecca, what do you mean one out of ten?

R: Well, the original meaning of the word "decimate", as you can probably guess from the Latin root, is "one out of ten".

J: So if you said, "the city was decimated", you're saying that one-tenth of the city was destroyed.

R: Exactly.

JR: Yeah.

S: Right, whereas now we mean it to mean most of the city, yeah.

J: But why so specific? Who cares?

S: Exactly.


JR: Exactly the point.

R: Yeah.


B: What's the deal with "nausea", though, because I admit I've called that on people 'cause my understanding was that if you say "I'm nauseous", it means not that you feel like throwing up, but looking at you makes other people want to puke.

R: Yes.


B: I always tell people it should be "nauseated".

S: That's because you're a pedant.

B: Well, OK.


S: You just passed the test.

B: All right, fine. But.

S: You're technically correct, "nauseous" means you induce nausea in others. Believe me, my patients tell me that all the time. "I was nauseous."

R: And you agree.

B: Yes, yes you are.

J: But Steve, you can't say hopefully, like, "hopefully they'll find the missing kid"?

JR: Well, hopefully you can, but...


S: You can; technically you'll be wrong except, the reason why this is an actual news item is because the AP Stylebook, which is the official book of words and the proper way to use words for journalists, or one of several. They have to update their proper ways to use words and they just updated "hopefully" to the way that everybody actually uses it, which is as you just did, like you know, "hopefully we'll have a good show", as opposed to saying, "'we'll have a good show', Steve said hopefully." Which is the proper way to use the word.

J: So I'm a trend setter.

S: You could look at it that way.

R: Yeah, it's pretty much because of you.


S: Right. Presently, I've always thought that was a British thing, but apparently that's also a time thing.

J: Like what do you mean; give us an example, Steve.

S: I'll give you an example. So, you might say, "I'll be there presently."

J: No, no no no. Give us a real example; let me hear the accent; let's do it.

S: Oh you mean a British...

J: Yeah.

S: (British accent) "I'll be there presently..."


S: Meaning I'll be there soon. Or you know, shortly. But people now mean immediately, right now, at this moment. So the meaning has just shifted over time. Some word scholars call these words "skunked" because you just can't use them any more in a way that—the way in which most people use them is improper and may in fact be misleading, so it's hard to use the word properly. If you use it properly, nobody knows what you mean.

B: Yeah.

S: So, "disinterested" is a good one; I think that's the most skunked word on the list there. "Disinterested" means objective. It means you are detached, you know. It doesn't mean uninterested, but people use it mean uninterested, which is a problem because "uninterested" means uninterested...


S: ...and there's no other word that really means exactly what "disinterested" means.

J: Does it mean that you're like spaced out?

S: No, it means that you don't have an interest in it.

B: You're unbiased.

S: Yeah, you're unbiased in that you have no (inaudible)

J: So you're agnostic to it—

R: Apathetic.

S: Apathetic, but more than apathetic, you have no interest in it, you have nothing invested in the outcome.

JR: That's like being disuninterested. The same thing.


R: Somebody call the AP Stylebook, we got to get this in.

J: Randi, don't you ever decimate me on stage again.

JR: No, I'll try not to.

J: Hopefully, you won't make me nauseous by sitting next to me.


S: Now I'm sure you're all anxious for the next news item.

B: Nauseated.

Sports Pseudoscience (8:23)[edit]

  • Special report

S: Evan, you're wearing the sports jersey. What's going on here?

E: We are in New York City and New York City is the professional sports capital of America, is it not?

R: No.


E: It's not?

R: Boston? Hello.

(some cheers)

R: There's some of you.

B: Chicago.

E: Yeah, that would be good Rebecca... you know, and Boston, you could argue I'd say that it's the second large sports city in America, because they have the second-most sports team championships. No other city, though, has seen more championships and team sports than New York: 55.

J: Now you're including the Yankees, right?

E: Well, of course, I mean they've got half of it. The Jets have one. Now, sports are part of the fabric of the canvas that makes up New York. And the culture of sports and the culture of New York are definitely inseparable, in my opinion. So it should come as no surprise to this audience especially that the culture is rife with pseudoscience and illogical practices. For example, sport has a long and storied history of appeal to superstition. The first Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions held in the honour of Zeus. And priests would offer sacrifices to their gods so that the athletes that were representing their city-states would have sort of upper hand and advantage over the competition.

S: What would they sacrifice?

J: People from the other team.


E: That's the most effective way of making sure that your city-state is going to be the winner. But it comes right up to modern sports, right up to today and superstitions are abundant. So in baseball we have Hall of Fame players such as Ted Williams, Boston fans out there. But did you know that Williams only ever used bats constructed from wood that he would go and hand select, and he wanted the narrowest grain in the wood, he said, because he felt it helped him hit the ball more cleanly. What evidence there actually was for that? Nobody knows.

R: True story, Ted Williams put his signature on a number of products, and you can purchase a Ted Williams signature home in Florida.

S: Home.

R: Yeah, a friend of mine, his parents own a Ted Williams signature home.

S: Is it made of finely grained wood?


R: Yeah, and it has a brain on display. Isn't that the Ted Williams thing? Wasn't there like a fight over his brain?

J: He froze himself.

E: Odd, right?

R: I think, I feel like we talked about that on the show once.

B: I don't remember. Jay, did he freeze himself?

J: Absolutely.

R: Yeah.


E: Speaking of frozen.

B: Smart guy.

E: Williams would go through the ritual of bathing his bats in alcohol. He believed that it helped keep his bat cooler in the summer time and therefore would help him to perform at the plate.

JR: Actually, he bathed himself in gin, I've...


R: Is that what it was? I think that was Babe Ruth.

E: Or Mickey Mantle.

JR: You've screwed up my line with it.

E: Um, and then moving on to tennis, we have a superstar Björn Borg. And during the Wimbledon Tournament—

S: You're not going to dis Björn Borg.

E: No, the Borg. He would stop shaving; he would wear the same shirt every time through the entire tournament.

B: Not Björn, really?

J: No washing?

E: No washing, no goodness no. You don't wash these things the...

S: The mojo would wash out.

J: It's too bad; I really liked him. I remember growing up watching him. I didn't realise that he thought that you could wash luck out of a garment. that's pretty ridiculous.

E: And other athletes will not wash their socks during playoff runs, or their underwear. Yeah.

R: But Tide has recently come out with the mojo-stay detergent.


R: It's really effective.

E: In professional football, there is such a thing called "the Madden Curse". This is a form of superstition that states that a pro football player that winds up on the box of Madden football video game series is destined to suffer an injury the next season.

S: What are the odds of having an injury if they're not on the cover of the...

E: Excellent points, what are the odds of not? But 50% of them, roughly half of them have actually had some sort of injury following coming up on the box.

J: You know, they don't take it to the next thing though. Like OK, so a company makes a video game, and they take a picture of a guy and they put it on the cover of the game. Like, are there, like, forces like spirits, "they put this guy on the box, let's get him!"

R: Get him!


J: Like really, like what are they thinking?

S: Or are there players going after him, saying, "hey he's on the cover, let's get him."


E: So if you're a pro football player, you know, yeah; it's nice to be on the cover of a box for a game but at the same time they don't want to see themselves on the next one because they think they're next. So—but we're not limiting the scope of the sports to the United States. We have a gentleman named Barry Fry, who was the manager of Birmingham City in the English soccer league. And before games, he would go to each of the four corners of the field—you want to guess what he did? Yeah, he marked his territory.


E: He claims to have done this to ward off evil spirits.

J: You sure he wasn't looking for Hoffa? Jimmy Hoffa?

E: He wasn't using the right tool if...


J: Tool.

E: Oh boy. And we know that superstitions are purely psychological. They're just a coping mechanism for athletes to deal with the pressures to succeed. Athletes want to believe that these habits and rituals do have a positive effect on their performance, when in reality it just comes down to their skills, their physical abilities and their confidence level. But the world of sports also has devices which claim to enhance player performance, even though there's little to no evidence suggesting that they do these things. For example, you'd be hard-pressed today to find a Major League Baseball player not wearing one of those brightly coloured Phiten Titanium necklaces, right? We've got Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, MVP; Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees, who just hit three home runs in a game the other night. Cliff Lee, Cy Young Award winner for the Philadelphia Phillies. These are the spokespeople for this company, and they are out there pitching this brand. Through what the company calls the "Phild process", the titanium is turned into aqua-titanium.


E: Which is trademark gibberish.

R: They put it in some water?

E: Exactly, right.

S: I didn't know titanium could rust.

E: The company claims that while they integrate small amounts of this metal directly into the fabric and these necklaces have healing properties to relieve neck and shoulder pains in the athletes that wear them.

R: It sounds exactly like Power Balance, like what Jay is wearing.

J: Yeah.

JR: Yes. It's a good thing to introduce this. You've got to know about this, folks.

J: Actually I have a few... I'm just going to throw these out. These are Power Balance bands.

S: Jay, Jay, they're placebo bands.

J: Placebo? No, those are the fakes. They're exactly like Power Balance bands; they're made at the same factory, you can go to, we're going to have these at our table later today, and for fund raising. But the joke here is that a friend of ours buys these from the manufacturer. They're identical; they even have a hologram in them but this hologram has the letter P for placebo band. They're quite comfortable, and they're good—you know, this is a good thing—you know, you're at work and your friend's like... "oh that's..." "no no, this is actually..." you know, it's a starting point for a conversation. You can correct people.

JR: The thing that they did in Australia, by the way, with one of the Power Bands that they were selling in Australia—the Australian Government made them issue refunds—exact refunds plus postage—to every customer who bought one of those bands. Why can't we do that in this country?

E: Mmhmm.

JR: I don't understand.


J: Totally agree.

S: There was a class action suit in California that's going against them, so.

JR: Oh really?

S: Yes, so they're having international trouble. Richard Saunders, the Australian skeptic that's a colleague of ours sent us recently—he sent around a picture of... I don't think it was Power Bands, it was the next brand of the same thing; the same magic bracelet... they were originally selling for $60. And he found them in the discount bin for like $2, at this store. So they really have done a good job of knocking that industry.

R: They still only cost about 10 cents.


S: Still got the profit margin there, yeah.

JR: Richard told me that these cost about the equivalent of 18 cents to have manufactured. Look at the mark-up from 18 cents to what, $50?

S: $50, $40, $50, $60, yeah.

JR: The value...

J: But Randi, they have holograms.

JR: Oh, a hol... I forgot, oh silly me.

R: It's the finest technology of 1985.


S: Space-age technology.

J: I was enthralled by holograms for about 5 seconds when they first came out. Oh yeah, colour, nice.


J: They came out with the guard, like the mouth guard with the similar—I don't know if they have the magnets—you talked about that.

R: Oh look at that.

E: We're going to jump into that next.

R: I like it when we accidentally set up each others' bits. It's like we planned it.

E: Mouth guards, yes. So...

J: Do you know anything about that, Evan?

E: We do know a bit about that. Actually, Steve, you're going to tell us a little bit about mouth guards.

S: Oh yeah, so mouth guards. I mean, a lot of sports athletes wear mouth guards to protect their teeth and their facial structures from impacts and injury, but did you know that mouth guards also can improve athletic performance? Endurance, strength, balance; whatever. This is all based on neuro-muscular dentistry.


R: Steve, I'm just going to get out my wallet right now.

S: Yeah, here's a blank cheque. Honestly, how many people in the audience have heard of neuro-muscular dentistry before I just mentioned it right now?


E: It's about zero.

S: That's interesting, would you be surprised to learn that it's been around for 50 years? 50 years this pseudoscience has been simmering along in the background, totally under the radar. There's very little written about it, skeptically. So there's—and like a lot of these pseudosciences that endure for a long time, there may be a kernel of truth in that, for actual dentistry, you know maybe you should consider not just like the fit of the teeth, but also the TMJ, the temporal mandibular joint and the muscles of the jaw. That's fine. That's sort of the legitimate kernel to neuro-muscular dentistry. But then they go beyond that to say, "oh yeah and these muscles will also control the performance of other muscles in your body." Noooo, they won't. That of course, is based on applied kinesiology. How many people here have heard of applied kinesiology before. You gotta clap.

(some clapping)

S: So that's a little bit more well-known pseudoscience.

R: Did you just make them clap for applied kinesiology?


S: Yes.

R: He's just messing with you.

S: Some people were raising their hands; you know, audio podcast; the whole drill. So yeah, that's a similar notion of, like you know, the magical effects from one part of the body to the other. So you know, hey, if you're going to manufacture mouth guards for sports stars, why not also throw in some magical claims that it's going to improve your performance and then they do some crappy in-house studies where they have some academic at a university do it, but it's still studies with 10 people, 15 people, way too small. There was one—Evan and I were looking at this one study that was touting a significant improvement in reaction time to visual stimuli... the improved reaction time was 10 milliseconds.

J: Steve, that helps with Whack-A-Mole.


S: Audio stimuli, 2 milliseconds. 2 thousandths of a second. That's no difference. But they were selling that as evidence for a "significant" improvement in performance.

E: Steve, how much do they charge for these sorts of mouth guards if you want them?

S: The customised mouth guards, the ones that are supposed to give you the benefit, can cost up to two to three thousand dollars.


J: What!?

E: Yep.

R: Wow.

S: That's a good scam.

E: Now that's a good bit.

J: You've got to realise, the people that own that company are just laughing all day. "Look, another jackass just bought one, cha-ching, cha-ching!" That's real money, man; you could make hundreds of millions of dollars with that, with the money that the athletes spend on all this garbage.

JR: Except in Australia they'll make you give the money back. I still, I'm appalled that we can't do that in this country. If they can do it in Australia, we sure as hell can do it here.

S: Yeah, they're supposed to be behind us, not ahead of us. What's up with that? That was for Richard.

J: We need Richard Saunders to move here and make it all happen.

JR: Yes, yes. I'm all for that.

E: We talked about the power bands just a little bit before, you know, regarding placebo effect certainly, and now athletes, they just don't get it. Now, sports nonsense is not just limited to devices and superstitions. There is outright "kerankery" and woo that defies all logic and is just to the point of silliness. Take Novak Djokovic, for example. You know who he is? He's the number-one ranked men's tennis player in the world. Winner of five grand slams tennis tournaments; three out of four grand slams in 2011, which is a remarkable feat; that's only ever happened about a handful of times in history. So what does he credit for his success? Well, in an interval he credits hard work, his intense endurance training and the assistance of Dr. Igor Cetojevic, an acupuncturist from Serbia who specialises in something called "quantum technologies".

R: Hi everybody!


E: Now, how does quantum technologies work, you might ask? Well, according to the doctor's website, here's one line: "The Einstein paradigm as applied to vibrational medicine sees human beings as networks of complex energy fields that interface with physical/cellular systems."[1]

S: Got that?

E: That's just one sentence out of paragraphs of gobbledygook and nonsense that is designed to sound impressive but has no scientific validity whatsoever.

S: So hard work, training and magic.

E: And magic.

S: Yeah, that's the "part of this nutritious breakfast" ploy.

R: That's Randi's success story.

(laughter & applause)

E: That's the number one tennis player in the world! My gosh.

J: Randi doesn't play tennis.

E: Oh, I'm sorry. Number two.

B: There really should be a law against quantum abuse. That's just reprehensible.

R: It's so tiny.

E: Quantum penalties; they're very, very small.

S: It's the Bob law. "Thou shalt not abuse quantum technology."

E: Do you guys remember Sidney Crosby? Right?

S: Oh yeah.

E: He's the National Hockey League—he's the MVP—former MVP in the National Hockey League and Stanley Cup champion, right? He's a big name for hockey. And he credits his recovery from concussion symptoms to Dr. Ted Carrick. We've spoken about him on the show before. (see episode 341: Chiropractic Neurology)

S: Chiropractic neurology.

E: His healing brand is called "chiropractic neurology".

B: Oh boy.

S: Neuro-muscular dentist; you're getting the pattern there, right?

E: Yep, yep.

J: What is—I don't even know that that is.

S: Yeah right, it's just pseudoscience applied to... with a neurological theme. You know, created by a couple of chiropractors.

R: It's just add "neuro-" to a previously existing pseudoscience.

J: Yeah, but what does he do? Like, what does he do to you?

S: All right. So for example, like one thing he says: he could tell what your brain function is like by the blind spots on your eyes, which is not true. And then he adjusts your neck and your blind spot gets better. So your brain got better. That's what it is. It's just pure nonsense.

J: But are people going, "I have blind spots"?

S: No they're saying, "I have weakness". He says, "well, let me see, oh yeah, I can see that your blind spot is bigger on the left side that on the right side. Let me adjust that, oh all better." That's what it is.


E: Sidney suffered his injury over a year ago and he went to Carrick over last summer to get treatments and he was getting ready to come back to the league and everything and actually did come back for a bit but then the symptoms came back; he had to step out again. So the treatment...

S: Didn't take.

E: Whatever, it didn't work. So what does he do? He goes back to Dr. Carrick again and he's in sessions with him again.

S: All right.

E: So.

J: Thank you, Evan.

S: I am shocked, shocked, that there is superstition in sports.

E: Superstition, nonsense.

JR: Another point here that you have to deal with here, though, is: perhaps these sports figures are not convinced that the thing works, but they collect some loot.

S: Oh yeah.

JR: For endorsing it.

E: Oh no doubt about it; they sure do.

JR: That might be their only motive; we don't know.

E: Well, I think one of the other motives for these athletes is that they obviously don't know the science behind what they're doing. But the other thing is that they see their counterparts and they see their fellow athletes doing it, they feel so strongly about having every little edge they can possibly get, they don't want their competition having that little slight edge over them. They want to be—the want to have the power band; they want to have the Phiten necklace; they want to go to the chiropractic neurologist.

S: Chiropractic, neuro-muscular ocular whatever. Applied kinesiology.

J: Randi's right. Steve and I, we were researching something recently—remember we were laughing at like the professional athletes were giving comments, and it was so marketing-canned, like first off, that guy did not say that. Somebody sitting in an office wrote that. Like, "I love using my blah bla-blah when I'm paying tennis; it's wonderful." Like, the athlete doesn't talk that way. The guy's like a surfer dude and he's like...

S: Yeah. Right. All right.

Nuking Asteroids (25:02)[edit] How it Would Work: Destroying an Incoming Killer Asteroid With a Nuclear Blast

S: So Bob, we have yet another crazy scheme to protect the Earth from rogue asteroids that are going to destroy us.

B: It doesn't sound so crazy.

R: Does it involve Bruce Willis? That's all I want to know.

E: Again?

B: Oh my god. You're stealing my joke.

R: Sorry.

B: (laughs) Supercomputer simulations of a one megaton blast are showing that actually using a bomb like that on the surface of an asteroid actually might be a viable option for preventing the destruction of, if not the Earth, then civilisation, of an asteroid that is relatively close. And doing research for this item, it makes me think of, why is it so much fun to contemplate the potential future destruction of the earth? You know, it's kind of fun to think about it, right? It's like, why?

S: Because you're a psychopath?


B: OK. That's one hypothesis. So...

S: Because you think you're going to be one of the one in a billion survivors, that's why.

B: No, no no.

E: Well, you can be frozen deep under ground.

S: Your brain will be in an android.

B: No, the scenarios I contemplate, nobody survives.

J: Bob, so they set off the nuke, and then it pushes it?

B: No, not quite, that's not the idea.

J: We're waiting for you to tell us what the hell happens here. Come on.


B: Well, I gotta build up here. You'll enjoy it.

J: OK, all right. Randi and I will pipe down. Go ahead, here we go.

B: So, I like thinking about all of the different ways the Earth can be destroyed. One of my favourites is a gamma-ray burst, which is a lot of fun to think about. This is a super... certain types of supernovae focus a lot of their explosive energy into this nasty columnated laser-like beam of death that could fry the Earth from like 6000 light years away.

R: That is fun!

B: Yeah isn't it? It's fun to think about that.

R: I never thought about it like that.

B: How about this one—Rebecca, how about this one? I just recently thought of this: a super-massive black hole entering our solar system. You know, what would happen?

R: He just thought of that.

B: Oh it's really cool.

S: Somebody should write a book about all the different ways in which the earth could be destroyed.

B: I've been trying to get Phil to write one but he keeps blowing me off.


B: So yeah. There's lots of ways that the Earth or civilisation could be destroyed and the bad thing about that is not the fact that, of course we're all going to die, but the real problem is that we can't do anything about it, even if we had Star Trek technology, it would be hard to really protect the Earth, unless of course, you had Spock and Data helping you out. But, there are scenarios—

R: What goes through your head as you're lying in bed at night? Is this what it is? It's "I've thought of another way the world can end."

B: ...the world can end, No.

R: Although, if Spock was there.


S: Rebecca: If Spock were there.

(laughter & applause)

B: So there are, of course, scenarios that we can deal with—that we can actually do something, and that's asteroid or cometary impacts. And some of the ideas, some of the schemes that people have are interesting, like using a space ship as a gravity tug. Just letting gravity change the trajectory that would destroy the earth to a more benign trajectory.

J: So they park it right next to the asteroid and it just needs to push it just a little bit.

B: Yeah, just a little nudge. It's a little bit more complicated than just parking it, but...

R: It's like parallel parking...


B: Just using gravity. Or how about—this one was cool—using laser beams to heat up one side of the asteroid and letting that energy change the orbit of the asteroid.

J: ...release gas or something?

B: Huh?

J: Gas? Is that about gas?

B: Yeah.

J: Because I think I can help if they need gas.

B: Oh yeah, you can. The problem with that, all of those ideas, though is that you need...


J: Thank you, thank you.

R: Please don't encourage him.

B: I know. I'm glad you're sitting over there. You need lots of time. A lot of these ideas, you need lots of time; years to plan and build and deploy. But what if you find out, whoa we've got five months and this mountain is going to hit the Earth. What are we going to do?

J: We'd have sex, the whole time. Oh yeah.


B: That's one way to deal with it. A lot of people say, though, just nuke it. Just nuke it out of existence and that's... it's fun to think about that, but...

J: So hopefully they'll be able to decimate it. I'm trying...


B: No, you want to... you'd have to decimate it ten times though, to be really thorough.


B: Where was I, man? Jesus.


S: Come on, Bob. But we've always been told that you can't just blow up an asteroid, because now you're going to have thousands of little asteroids that are going to rain down on the Earth and cause even more destruction. Are you telling me that Phil has been lying to me all these years?

B: I don't know...

R: Are you calling Phil a "philthy" liar?

B: No, I'm not, I'm not going to... hey, science changes; science advances. The other option is that you blow it up and it just kind of gravitationally re-collapses and you've got an asteroid. So for years, that's what I've thought anyway, that nukes won't do it if it's really close. But according to Robert Weaver, he's a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He's been running these interesting supercomputer simulations on a 32,000-processor supercomputer. Cielo, I think it's called. And he's made some interesting discoveries, I think. It makes me a little bit more confident about actually pulling off this scenario. He based his simulations on the—what the name of that asteroid, Itakaru?

S: The Japanese one.

B: Which is like a half a kilometre big asteroid that actually—it's not like a one big rock, it's actually a conglomeration of lots of rocks that are loosely held together gravitationally. And he ran these simulations and he discovered that... one thing he discovered, you don't need to send Bruce Willis to this thing and dig a deep hole and stick it in the middle to blow it up. That would work, at least according to his simulations. You could just put the nuke on the outside; it's called a contact burst. If it explodes just on the surface somewhere, that would be enough; that would be enough to disrupt the asteroid all the way through; all this kinetic energy would just transfer from rock to rock to rock and eventually it would affect the whole thing. And the other interesting thing is that it would impart enough energy so that it would reach escape velocity. So this thing would disperse and not re-coalesce, apparently. And so that's good. So he thinks you could actually disperse something as big as a half a mile with just one megaton bomb.

S: And each piece would... since its trajectory would be changed enough that they probably will miss the earth. Is that the idea?

B: Right. Well, the thing... it still needs... now he didn't go into any detail I'm not aware. But obviously if this thing was closer than say the moon, you're not going to have enough time. But if you get to it relatively quickly enough, it would disperse enough or evaporate enough so that the Earth would be out of danger. That's what his simulations are saying.

J: Bob, you know what bothers me?

B: What?

J: The idea that—remember that—what was it? Some type of thing that was in low-Earth orbit. They didn't know when it was going to re-enter the Earth.

S: Yeah.

J: The Earth's, you know...

S: Skylab?

J: Right, whatever. No, no, no very recently, like within the past year.

S: Oh, Mir?

E: The Russian one.

J: Yeah I think it was one of the Russian ones. It was coming back in, remember? They couldn't predict something that was going around the Earth, when it was going to come back in. This really sounds like... I don't think they know what they're talking about. I think it's really dangerous.

JR: Well I think they can pretty well predict it, but the fear I have, knowing NASA and some of the wee mistakes that they make every now and then, I can just see them launching from Cape Canaveral, they do a count down, the whole business, and they've got a bomb on there that's going to explode when it gets close enough to the asteroid. OK? And they fire it, up they go and the project manager turns and says, did you light the fuse?


E: The what?

JR: Oh, I forgot.

J: It just worries me that they would send, maybe it would take a year, two years, five years, for it to get out there.

JR: Yeah.

J: And then they're hoping, OK, it's going to blow it up and it's going to work, and we can predict that stuff really—

JR: No, they can also change it in orbit. I'm sure they would have some arrangement to do that. Steer a little bit to the left there. Eee.

S: It's probably a lot easier to predict something that's out in space rather than something that has the drag of low-Earth orbit atmosphere.

E: Right.

S: So I think they could probably predict it pretty well.

B: Don't forget, this is a method of last resort, and it's just nice to know that we possibly have an option when it's like so close that we can't do—

S: It would be worth a try, right?

B: Right. We can't do anything else. And don't forget, I mean, this is a specific type and size of asteroid that he ran these simulations on. He's going to run some more on bigger and bigger asteroids. Eventually he wants to do a simulation of the behemoth six-mile asteroid that ended the dinosaur reign, millions of years ago.

R: It didn't necessarily end the dinosaur reign.

B: Well...

R: Uh, on the episode that will be airing today, I believe, we discuss the serious scientific theory that suggests that there might be hyper-evolved space dinosaurs.

S: Yes.

E: Yeaaah.

S: Super-advanced alien space dinosaurs.

R: Yeah. Roving in the universe. It's very exciting.

S: Now what's better than that? We should make them our new mascots.

J: Now Rebecca, they wear helmets, right?

R: Yeah, with ray guns in their tiny little hands.


Splotch Ness Monster (33:46)[edit]

S: All right. Let's move on, because Rebecca, I need to know what is in this picture.

R: Oh yeah, this is really exciting. I mean, it's obvious though; it's obvious what it is. That is the Loch Ness Monster.


E: I pictured him bigger.

R: For our listeners at home, it looks kind of like a smear. It's a smear on a... that's a cell phone picture of a sonar display. It was taken by a captain of a boat on Loch Ness. He was...

E: Captain of the Valdez.

R: He was tooling around, and checking his sonar and he got really excited when he started to see this really massive thing showing up on his sonar and he pointed out that there is nothing known to be this big in Loch Ness. There are seals, for instance, but nothing quite this big. This I should mention was published in the venerable journal the Daily Mail.


R: Which is appropriate for today, actually, because today is the anniversary of the published—of The Daily Mail publishing the Surgeon's Photo, which is the famous fuzzy picture of the Loch Ness Monster.

S: Right.

R: And you know, eventually someone came forward and said that he was part of a hoax and the hoax was actually on the Daily Mail because these guys hated the Daily Mail, even way back then.

B: Was that a death bed confession? Am I mis-remembering that?

R: It might have been.

S: Yeah, and today by the way—today is April 21st, not the day this show goes out.

R: Right. Yeah, sorry.

S: That's all right.

R: So yeah, it's appropriate though, that it's the Daily Mail that is staying on top of this story. So sure enough, there is this sonar picture of what can only be described as the Loch Ness Monster. According to the Daily Mail, Steve Feltham, a full-time Loch Ness Monster hunter...


JR: Busy, busy, busy.

E: That's job security.

R: True story: my guidance counselor in high school said you're either going to be a professional podcaster or a Loch Ness Monster hunter.

B: How does he get paid? How does he live? How does he eat?

R: I don't know.

S: Probably writes books.

R: Yeah, yeah. There's probably a big market for him.

J: How come people just don't get tired of this crap? Like, do we have to talk about the Loch Ness Monster, I'm not—

R: Jay, look at the picture!


E: Science, Jay!

J: Why can't they make up something new? Like really? Do we have to go back to the Loch Ness Monster again?

R: This is the greatest cryptozoological discovery since... Yeti corn, I don't...


S: All right. So here's my question. Here's a very serious question.

R: Yes.

S: You know, with Bigfoot, Sasquatch. Every time somebody presents this blurry, fuzzy blob in the distance, we came up with the term "Blobsquatch" to refer to that. So what's the equivalent of Blobsquatch for the Loch Ness Monster?

R: That's good. You're putting me on the spot, Steve.

S: Come on quick! Be witty.

R: Uh...

S: Well, we'll let the audience think about that.

R: All right, well so here's what Steve Feltham, full-time Loch Ness Monster hunter said: "There are no animals in the loch as big as the image here. The biggest thing we see are seals, which are nothing compared to this. It's very exciting and the best evidence we've had in donkey's years", which is a apparently a thing they say.

B: Really, what was that?

R: "There is usually a mundane explanation, yet no one has come up with one for this." Which is funny because buried in the article is an explanation for this.


S: I'm shocked.

R: And it's quite mundane. First of all, the interesting thing about sonar is that that is not one still image of what is happening under the water. That's actually the boat moving along the water and taking an image every second. So that does not demonstrate width. That's just a blob and that was following along the boat. Blob blob blob blob blob. Um.

J: So that could be, if it is something, it could be something swimming with the boat and it just keeps...

R: Yeah, it could just be something following the boat. Or, according to Dr. Simon Boxhill from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, this picture is built up slowly as the boat moves, and I'm paraphrasing, it's probably algae.


R: He pointed out that you can get great masses of algae that are strung along and the organisms that feed on the algae can often show up on sonar. But it's probably the Loch Ness Monster.

S: Right. Right, right, right.

JR: We had some confusion here about what "donkey's years" means. Would someone like to explain how... that expression, what it means; where it comes from?

E: Take it away, sir.

R: I've got no idea.

JR: In the age of a donkey.

S: Yeah.

JR: How long do donkeys live, anyone know?

J: Six years.

JR: Six. You got that from Britannica, no doubt.

J: No, I just made it up. I have no idea.

JR: Because they discontinued the Britannica so that knowledge is probably old now.


JR: Yeah, I gave away my Encyclopedia Britannica. 24 volumes of it the day before they discontinued printing the thing and now it's an antique. I want it back. That's all there is to it.


R: We'll just print off Wikipedia for you; it's just as good.

JR: OK, thanks.

IceCube neutrino detector (39:04)[edit]

S: All right. Does anybody know what this is, this next picture?

B: I do.


S: Bob does. This is a picture of IceCube... not the rapper. IceCube is a neutrino detector in Antarctica. What's actually really cool is that the neutrino detector is really Antarctica itself; it's the ice. Neutrinos are those phantom-like particles that do not travel faster than the speed of light.

B: (laughs)

E: Close?

S: But they do travel pretty close. And occasionally travelling through a glacier of ice, they will hit an actual molecule of ice and kick out a photon. So what scientists have done is that they've—they drilled these long deep holes through the ice and then they put like beads on a string of photon detectors down into those holes, and so they are there to detect the photons that are the result of the neutrinos. So the glacier plus the detectors makes the neutrino detector. The reason why we're talking about that is because the data from IceCube was just used to test a hypothesis about what causes high-energy cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are particles streaming through space that are constantly bathing the Earth. Some of them are so high-energy that astronomers are not really sure what process in the universe could be producing them. They're just really really high energy. One of the leading hypotheses was that they were created in gamma-ray bursts. Gamma-ray bursts are perhaps the highest-energy events that happen in the universe. One gamma-ray burst will put out more energy than our sun will put out in its entire lifetime. It's a lot of energy. So they said OK, that's a high energy event, cosmic rays, or high-energy cosmic rays are really high energy, maybe that's what produced them. So the theoretical physicists figured out that if that's the case, if that process of gamma-ray bursts is producing these high-energy cosmic rays, they should also be producing a pulse of neutrinos. So we have data telling—you know, now we've been observing the gamma-ray bursts, so they said let's go back and look at the IceCube data and see if we're seeing pulses of neutrinos every time there's a gamma-ray burst. A pulse of neutrinos, by the way, would be about eight. Eight neutrinos detected by the detector. Obviously for the gazillion that's produced, streaming through the Earth, about eight of them, they predicted would have kicked off photons and that detector should be seeing them. So they looked at the data and... no pulses of neutrinos. So that is not consistent with the current theories about what we should see if gamma-ray bursts are the source of high-energy cosmic rays. So if you believe that whole chain of argument then they're probably not the source of high-energy cosmic rays.

J: Steve, I can explain this. The second one from the right is clearly the Loch Ness Monster.


J: I mean, look at it.

S: It's just as good a picture of Nessie as the sonar. It is, absolutely. So the alternate hypothesis is that they're produced by massive black holes.

B: Colliding black holes, maybe.

S: In the middle of galaxies. They said "active", like massive active super black holes in the middle of galaxies are producing these high-energy cosmic rays. So I guess we have to figure out a way to test that hypothesis like this. This is certainly not the last word on the high-energy cosmic ray hubbub but it's always interesting when you observe a piece of data that completely blows a theory out of the water.

R: Steve, I have a question. Could you tell me what—maybe in terms of percentage or odds—what are the chances that these high-energy cosmic rays are in some way caused by alien space dinosaurs?

S: Do these... first of all, are these alien space dinosaurs advanced?

R: Hyper-advanced.

S: And do they have rayguns?

B: Wait, hyper-advanced or ultra-advanced?

R: Tiny ray guns.


S: So how can we test that hypothesis? The super-advanced space dinosaurs with tiny ray guns.

R: What? What do I look like, a paleo-astro-chrisisist?


JR: Now Steve, there was a wonderful object at the New York World's Fair many years ago. I worked at the fair for General Cigar of all places, doing a magic show on behalf of Mark Wilson at that time. So I got around a lot in that fair. There was a wonderful thing, I believe at the General Electric pavilion, where they had slabs of lead about so thick like this, in a big cube. In between were sealed a mixture of argon and neon and high-voltage on either end of this machinery. And every now and then as you'd go by the thing you'd hear a crackling noise—they had it amplified through some speakers, and you would see a cosmic ray coming in on its own; no direction; no invitation; nothing. And it would go through the first bit and then spread out and produce this cascade of sparks. That's the kind of thing that really gets kids. I wasn't a kid at the time but... well, I am still am a bit. But, that's the kind of thing—if we had that in some colleges—a model of that sort of thing, showing kids that they're standing in the middle of cosmic rays that are coming in at them and passing through their bodies and not producing sparks, I hope.

S: Cancer occasionally, yeah.

JR: It's wonderful, every now and then, every two or three minutes, you'd hear bulalalaluh. This wonderful thing, one cosmic ray that's been out there for, who knows? A long time I would say, coming in and entering the top of this machine and displaying itself like that. That's what gets kids and gets them to ask questions. "How did that happen?" "Oh, let me tell ya how it happened." That's an opportunity that we don't often get.

R: Yeah, that's very cool.

S: Yeah.

JR: And educating kids; this should be one of our major priorities. The standards of education in the United States of America; I'm highly embarrassed by them now.

S: Right, right, right.

JR: Just incredibly bad. And we're supposed to be the leading nation in the world, yes. Statue of Liberty, the whole thing. Yeah, but what about the state of our educational system? It is distressing and it should be distressing to all of us.


Audience member: (inaudible)

J: I'm sorry, what was that?

Audience member: I want a quickie with Bob!

B: Oh boy.


Quickie with Bob: Space Shuttle Enterprise (45:35)[edit]

R: Bob, the audience has made a demand.

S: Well, let's see.

B: We cued up for that?

S: What do you know?

B: Excellent.


S: Good timing.

R: It's really good timing!

B: This is actually—well is this actually the Enterprise or is it just a generic?

S: I don't know.

B: OK, this is uh, this is a uh... you know, the shuttle on top of a 747. This is how... the shuttles may have been grounded; they're not undergoing powered flight any more but they are getting shuttled around on these 747s. And actually in two days, the test shuttle Enterprise is going to fly around the New York metropolitan area and land at JFK. I think the last I heard was between 9:30 and 11:30 in the morning on Monday. So if you're around, check it out because I'm kind of bummed I'm busy because I'd love to see that. I mean, imagine seeing this thing land at JFK?

J: They canceled it?


E: Oh, weather? Weather?

B: Ohhh.

S: They delayed it.

B: OK, all right.

S: Never mind.

B: Thanks for the update. No, it's interesting though, because there's lots of restrictions on flying this thing. It's called the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, the SCA, these 747s. And they're really restricted. They've got to fly—I don't think they can fly higher than 15,000 feet, so they really can't fly too high. And they actually have aircraft that fly I think 100 miles or whatever in front of it clearing the weather so it's very very, very... it's very tough to get this thing from point A to point B because there's lots of restrictions. But I've been wondering about it. I mean we've all seen these images for years, right? Here's the orbiter on the top of this 747 and you kind of take it for granted, but it's really the ultimate piggy-back of all time. It's really a fascinating topic so I dived into it a little bit and one of the questions I had was, well, why a 747? Why not just use something like a Lockheed C-5, which is this gargantuan military cargo jet that can probably transport the Empire State Building, it's just so big and strong. It really couldn't, but it seems like it can. Why not pick a C-5, why a 747? And there's actually a couple of good reasons for that. The wings on the C-5 were too high and if it's too high and the wings, I guess, of the orbiter are too close to it, that's going to be a problem. And the other problem was that the Air Force wouldn't sell NASA a C-5. Like, "no you can't own that, that's ours."

S: (laughs)

B: But you can buy a 747 outright, so that's what NASA did. They bought two of them; they've got two of them and they gutted it—if you see the inside of it, it's completely gutted. Of course, there's no chairs; they want to make it as light as possible because you're carrying an orbiter on the back of it. They beefed up the avionics, the engine; they made it stronger and um, and what else?

R: Can you ride inside the orbiter? Like, is that...

B: Oh my god.

J: I was thinking of that too.

R: That would be really cool.

J: Like being in the cockpit while this is going on.

R: Pretending you're flying it.


E: Look at meeee!

J: I mean, I would get in costume, I would be like "we're going on a space adventure today."

E: "Houston, we have a problem, ahhhh!"


B: I don't even think Obama could get clearance for that. I mean, nobody's doing that, and there's not many more opportunities because there's only a few more. This is actually—after it lands at JFK, they're going to put it on a barge and float it to the Intrepid Museum. Let's see... some other things I looked up was how much fuel does something like this use? If you looked at these 747s, it's like 20,000 gallons per hour of fuel. But with the orbiter on it, it's double that; it's 40,000 pounds of fuel. Which I calculated; if a jet ran on unleaded gas, which it doesn't, it would cost $30,000 an hour to run. For jet fuel, how much more expensive is jet fuel? I don't know, but it's probably a lot more expensive than that. Also I was wondering, how does a 747 handle with an orbiter on its back? So I read some of the quotes from some of the pilots and they said that it surprisingly doesn't—it handles very similarly except for a few different things. Apparently when you're flying the 747, there's a lot of noise and banging because the wake from the back of the shuttle is hitting the rear stabiliser of the of 747, so it's kind of—it causes this shaking. And a couple other things that would probably guess. It takes a long time to take off. You're just rolling down that—on the runway for a long time before it takes off. And one of the pilots said you've got to take turns very very carefully because you've got all this weight, but otherwise he said it performs very similarly to just a regular 747. That was a little bit surprising.

S: So when's it going to be in the Intrepid Museum?

B: Well, now I've no idea.

S: We don't know, yeah.

B: It was supposed to be, Monday it was going to land at JFK but now I'm not sure.

S: Now it's indefinite.

B: I'm not sure what's going to happen. Oh, a couple little tid-bits that were funny—

S: I wish we had time for them, because we're moving on.


B: OK.

R: Your quickie was becoming a longie.

S: Jay, we're going to...

B: Oh that's right; it was a quickie.

S: So we're going to skip the prank.

J: Oh, do you guys want to hear the prank?

S: Go ahead, do it.

B: Wait I've got to finish, I've got to finish. This has been your quickie with Bob; I hope it was good for you too.


Prank (50:38)[edit]

J: Steve, we can't not do it.

S: All right, all right.

J: All right, very quickly, I pranked Steve about—I don't know, 10 years ago. Here it is.


R: Good setup.

S: Hello?

Woman with Jamaican accent: Hello?
S: What's up?
W: Hello how are you today?
S: Beautiful, f<beep>ing beautiful.
W: I'm Cleo. Do you have a question for Cleo?

S: Um... sure. Let's see. Will my brother Jay ever get a f<beep>ing life?


J: All right, that's it. I used a sound board; I pranked everybody. I pranked like 50 people that day; it was awesome.

S: Jay with a Chloe sound board, right. OK, all right.

R: Cleo.

S: Cleo. I said Chloe? It's Cleo. Cleo, Chloe, whatever.

SGU Video (51:27)[edit]

youTube video: Passing Away

S: All right, we have a new SGU video we're going to play right now.

S: Hey, Steve and Jay here. So at this point in the live NECSS show we premiered the new SGU video.

J: The name of the video is "Passing Away" and we made a parody on people who claim to channel the dead. And once you see it you'll get a dinstinct idea of who we may be making fun of in this video.

S: Yeah, we don't want to give any spoilers so we're not going to tell you waht it's about but it's a pretty funny take on the whole chanelling psychic medium thing.

J: So do us a favour, go to to; that's our channel, and it'll be the top video in there, called "Passing Away". Take a look at it; drop us some comments, and if you really like it we'd really appreciate it if you actually threw us a donation to help future efforts on making new videos and we will be showing a video at TAM, by the way.

S: That's right. All right, well back to NECSS.

Science or Fiction (52:27)[edit]


It's time for Science or Fiction.

S: Um, so we're going to do—this is the last thing that we're going to have time to do. So I like to do Science or Fiction during live shows. The way we're going to work this, I'm going to read the items and then we'll poll the audience. We'll do a very quick round to see which one these guys think are the fiction, and then we'll see if they had an influence on you guys. OK, so here they are. Remember, two of these are real, one is fiction. Item number one: A hen in Sri Lanka has given birth to a live chick, fully formed and healthy. Item number two: Scientists report successfully treating neuronal hearing loss in a trial using stem-cell therapy. And item number three: The most accurate study so far of the motion of stars near our sun find no evidence of dark matter in our vicinity, contradicting current models. Got that? All right, so.

JR: Stars near our sun.

S: Yeah, in the vicinity of our sun, you know...

JR: In our galaxy or...?

S: Yeah, like 100 light years or so around our sun, yeah. Not in our solar system, but yeah.

JR: I wouldn't call that near, but uh.


S: On galactic scales, astronomers—to astronomers that's near because everything else is really, really far.

JR: Yes.

S: I've heard. All right, Bob. Go.

B: Start over that end first; come on.

S: No.

R: Aren't we going to poll the audience first?

S: Yes, that's right. I'm sorry.

B: Thank you.

R: Saved ya.

S: Thank you, Rebecca.

E: Thank you, god.

S: So, if you think number one about the hen laying—giving birth to a live chick is the fiction, applaud.


S: If you think using stem cells to cure hearing loss is the fiction, applaud.


S: And if you think a study of stars calls dark matter into question is the fiction, applaud.


R: You guys, that was not helpful.

S: Nice even spread, nice even spread. Bob, what do you think?

B: I don't know... uh...


R: Bob doesn't know.

J: Bob, consider this a Quickie with Bob.

E: Even quicker.

S: Actually, decimate that and then you're good.

B: OK, all right. The live chick. Yeah, I can kind of see—I don't know, something happening to the egg, but I can't see the chick actually surviving in that scenario and then being kind of ejected in any fully formed and healthy way. So I've got a problem with that one. Let's see, the second one, neuronal hearing loss using stem cells. Yeah, I could see that. I'm kind of surprised that I didn't hear about it. That would be awesome if that's true. I'm not sure what to think about that one. The third one... I don't know, I think even a hundred light years, it just might not be enough real estate to really get a real read on the amount of dark matter in our vicinity. I think you need to go a little bit bigger-scale to really get a feel for how much there is. Um... yeah, all right, I'm just going to go with the egg. I just don't see the chick actually surviving that.

S: All right, Rebecca.

R: See I was pretty sure that one was true because I do believe that this is the end times, and...

S: Yeah.


R: That is one of the signs.

B: I didn't think of that. Damn.

R: Uh, and I believe the dark matter one because dark matter is magic and fiction. So, no; I don't know but I am pretty sure that that's correct, which just leaves the stem-cell one. I don't really have anything—I don't have a good reason for doubting it, but I think it sounds too tidy. It sounds too true so I'm going to say it's false.

S: OK. Randi, what do you think?

JR: I don't care about number one and number three; I'm not involved personally.


JR: But uh.

J: You don't like chicks?

JR: You know. We'll get into that later.

J: OK.


JR: We'll talk. But uh.

R: He's disinterested.


JR: I really hope that item number two is real because, what... (inaudible) I'd hope that number two is real.

S: The hearing one.

JR: I don't know about number one, number three. Eh.

S: All right. Jay?

J: Um, I have to admit I'm not 100% sure how eggs get fertilised.


JR: I can tell you the whole thing.

S: That's a long conversation, Jay.


J: No I know but I'm not. Aaargh.

E: Let's start with the basics, Jay.

J: I mean, sure; the hen—the egg cracks open; you know the egg's in there too long, maybe it stayed in there too long, whatever. So, sure, I can believe that one. The second one, sure why not? Stem cells could do it, and the last one I have no clue on, so I'll pick number three as the fake.

S: The dark matter.

J: Right.

S: OK. Evan?

E: Uh, it was fully formed, healthy and delicious, right?


E: I have a feeling that one's right, and I also have a feeling that the stem cell one is correct as well.

J: Join me.

E: Yeah I think I'm going to join you, Jay. (sighs) Dark matter in our vicinity, yeah I thought... I could have sworn we had some dark matter closer than...


E: I thought I saw something floating around out there.

R: It's got to be around here somewhere.

E: I was looking at the stars last night. I'll go with Jay. Yep.

S: Jay was dark matter.

E: Uh, dark matter, fiction.

S: All right, all right, all right. So they were kind of all over the place, too. So I don't know that we need to poll the audience again. Let's just go to the answers. So I'll take them in order. Item number one.

B: Crap.

S: A hen in Sri Lanka has given birth to a live chick, fully formed and healthy. That one—who here thought that one was the fiction?

B: I don't know.

S: Bob.


S: That one is... science.

E: Wow.

B: Crap.

R: Mmhmm. Prepare for the end times.

S: Yep. The, uh...

E: How?

S: Essentially what happened was the egg stayed inside the chicken and the chick hatched inside the chicken and then was given birth to live and healthy, but the mother, dead.

R: Oh...

E: Oh no.

JR: I had an idea—a suspicion as the sleight-of-hand artist, it would be very easy to go in there, grab the egg, put another chick in there and walk away.


R: As an alternate theory.

S: Alternate theory.

JR: And the chick would never tell.

R: That's why the chicken died. No witnesses.

S: No witnesses.


J: So the moral here is don't choke the chicken.


R: You encouraged him! You encouraged him; it's your fault.

J: I said this before, I don't hit on all of them; my job is to throw them out there and see how they roll.

S: That's right. All right, number two. Scientists report successfully treating neuronal hearing loss in a trial using stem-cell therapy. Um, does anyone think—Who thinks this one is the fiction?

R: Me.

(light applause)

S: And a few people in the audience. This one is... the fiction.

J: Aw.

S: Nicely done, Rebecca.

R: Thank you, thank you.

J: Sorry, Evan.

S: Unfortunately.

R: I mean... Sorry, Randi, but I won, which is...

JR: Better.

S: So there haven't been any human trials using stem cells to treat hearing loss, although there are some preliminary—some animal trials doing that; no one's done that yet. There was a recent study using cochlear implants to treat a certain kind of hearing loss, which was the item I morphed into the incorrect version that you heard on the show. So moving on to number three, which of course is science: The most accurate study so far of the motion of stars near our sun finds no evidence of dark matter in our vicinity, contradicting current models. So that one is science. This doesn't mean that dark matter doesn't exist. You know, again, for the quickie primer: dark matter is hypothesised to exist in order to explain the motion of stars in our galaxy. If we look at how galaxies are moving, there needs to be more gravity in the galaxy than we can see with illuminated stuff like stars. Therefore, there must be dark matter in the galaxy to explain that rotation. So what these scientists did is they looked at the very thorough data looking at the motion of stars in our vicinity, saying that their motion, if you model them, should also account for the amount of dark matter that we think should be present in the galaxy, if dark matter explains the movement of the galaxy. And they found essentially no evidence, gravitationally, of dark matter in our vicinity. So assuming that those measurements are correct—of course they always have to be vetted and reproduced, etc. That would mean that while there is dark matter in the galaxy, just for whatever reason it's not present locally in the amounts that our models predict it should be. So again, beautiful theory destroyed by ugly fact. But this obviously is not the last word. Again, it doesn't mean that dark matter doesn't exist, but it does mean that maybe our models about where dark matter is may be inaccurate.

JR: I think that there's a great concentration of dark matter right on this stage.

S: I—there must be. Yes.

E: Right between these ears.

S: Correct.

Remembering Perry (1:01:47)[edit]

A Tribute to the Venerable Perry DeAngelis

S: So we have two quotes today to close out the show. This one came from a listener. We get these emails all the time. This was just the most recent. The emailer said to us, "I am a sceptic. I am a free thinker. I discard drivel and exonerate exactitude. I thank Perry DeAngelis." So, our annual live show in New York is always our Perry DeAngelis memorial show; that's in fact how NECSS started, by us giving a show here to honour Perry. And so it's also it's good to note as we often do that we continue to get emails from people who just found the podcast, are going back through old episodes, like "hey, who was this Perry guy? He's awesome; why isn't he podcasting any more?". Of course they discover that he died a few years ago, unfortunately. But his legacy still lives on and we will always remember him at NECSS.


R: Yeah, round of applause for Perry. Just for you.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:02:46)[edit]

S: All right, Jay. Finish up with a quote.

J: Here's the quote. This quote is from George Bernard Shaw: "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it." George Bernard Shaw!


S: That's our show. Thank everyone for coming to NECSS and enjoy the rest of the conference. Thanks, everyone.

R: Thanks, everyone.

(applause & cheers)

Voiceover: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at You can also check out our other podcast the SGU 5x5 as well as find links to our blogs and the SGU forums. For questions, suggestions and other feedback please use the contact us form on the website or send an email to If you enjoyed this episode then please help us spread the word by leaving us a review on iTunes, Zune or your portal of choice.

Today I Learned...[edit]

  • April 28, 1953: A U.S. patent was issued for an overcoat for two people (or Siamese Twins) to Howard C. Boss (No. 2,636,176).
  • Hopefully, presently, decimate, anxious, disinterested and nauseous are all examples of "skunked" words: words which most people use improperly and thus may in fact be misleading so it's hard to use the word properly.
  • No other city in the U.S. has seen more championships and team sports than New York with 55.
  • The first Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions held in the honour of Zeus.
  • Ted Williams put his signature on a number of products, and you can purchase a Ted Williams signature home in Florida.
  • Supercomputer simulations of a one megaton blast have shown that using a bomb on the surface of particular types of asteroid actually might be a viable option for preventing the destruction of the Earth.
  • IceCube is a neutrino detector consisting of long strings with bead-like photon detectors that are inserted deep into bore-holes in an Antarctic glacier.
  • Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) are custom 747s owned by NASA and used to transport the Shuttles. NASA owns two, they sport beefed up the avionics, engine, and stronger air frame, and can fly at a maximum of 15,000 feet.


  1. A Brief Introduction to Energetic Medicine
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